Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
African American, Basketball, Protest, Boycott, LeBron James, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
For my thesis, I focus on the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the evolution of how its personnel—players, coaches, refs, owners, etc.—navigated racism, politics, social injustice, platform utilization, and other pressing topics from the mid-1900s to the present day. Monumental players that used their platform in the NBA to inspire change include Bill Russell (1960s), Kareem-Abdul Jabbar (1970s), Craig Hodges (1990s), and LeBron James (2010s). These men and many others risked their images, and in some cases, their NBA careers, in order to protest, march, boycott, and kneel for causes they believed in, such as the civil rights movement and accountability for police brutality. Covering the period from the 1950s to the 2010s, this project covers protest and the reaction to protest in the NBA. After outlining the history of protest in sport as well as the creation of basketball and the NBA in the introductory chapter, the next two chapters cover the role of NBA personnel in protest and social change. Chapter two covers issues including segregation, the civil rights movement, and police brutality, as well as the roles of Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in their endeavors to motivate social reform through their writings, public speeches, and protests against discrimination. The section will also discuss the civil rights movement and major events surrounding it such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The other sources used throughout include articles from the Chicago Defender, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Los Angeles Times, and more. The third and final chapter covers the Rodney King beating and the reaction to it, as well as the specific NBA players in the 1990s who were dedicated activists such as Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. The second part of chapter three will examine big events in the 2000s and present-day including the 2004 Piston-Pacers Brawl and 2020 NBA Playoffs bubble boycott. The impacts of key figures in this era such as LeBron James and Adam Silver are covered at the end of the last chapter.
Messersmith, Luke, "The Evolution of Protest and Social Movements in the National Basketball Association from the Mid-20th Century to the Present Day" (2021). Honors Theses. 2512.